As we sat down for our second tech night, you could look around at an amazing group of women and see the common denominator you always see at Scarlet Headers gatherings: smiles on smiles. Women brought together by gasoline culture and a love of two wheels…and wine. There was also wine. Our second night was geared toward learning how to buy a project bike, or any bike for that matter. Although we had already picked up the 1973 “Scarlet Red” Honda CL350, the idea behind #TSHProjectBike is to learn about the project bike process from beginning, middle, back to the drawing board if need be, and to the end.
Winging It, How to Buy a Project Bike
Once you’ve decided that you want to take on the project of working on a vintage bike, some people have specific makes and models in mind. Some people, like Justin, one of our fearless, or perhaps acting fearless, teachers is winging it. As he says, “sometimes when the right project bike opportunity comes along, you will be winging it as well.”
Whether you find an ad on craigslist or a connection through a mutual friend, questions to the owner are not the most important. People can fib (or straight out lie for a sale) or maybe they don’t even know the answer. Your initial inspection of the bike will provide most, if not all, the answers you need to make your decision to pull the trigger or keep looking. So where do you start? How will you diagnose catastrophic failures vs. minor routine repairs or needed adjustments? Well you need to make sure to bring your handy dandy tool kit!
What’s in TSH Tool Kit?
Basics – Sockets, ratchet + extensions, combo wrench, spanner (British ), Allen wrench, bit driver, mirror, extendable flashlight, safety wire, adjustable wrench, vice grips, box cuter, tire pressure gauge, voltmeter, and zip ties are some of the things you will find in our basic tool kit. PLAN TO GET DIRTY! Bring your gloves! Hope that you find the “one” – Bring Tie Downs! If you are looking for a specific bike, pull the shop manual, do some research, and know what you’ll need and what to look for. Harley takes a standard wrench, while a vintage Brit may need whitworth spanners.
A compression tester is very important to bring along as well – if you aren’t buying project bikes regularly, it may be best to borrow one, or bring along your best GIRLfriend who has one!
Let’s Get Down to Brass Tacks
When you start to diagnose problems, or parts that need to be replaced on your potential project bike, start with the “big things” and going from there is the best method. Look for catastrophic failures such as:
If you manage to get the bike started, check around the top and bottom of the cylinder for any significant leaking. If you’re looking at a vintage motorcycle, some level of seepage from old gaskets is to be expected. A steady stream of leaking oil is another matter, and could indicate warped heads. So far, if the bike runs, nothing is leaking too badly, and the price makes sense, finish up the deal and load the bike up. Don’t forget to get your signed Bill of Sale, Title, and remove the previous owner’s license plate.
Tips and Tricks
Trials and tribulations are the best way to learn, but it’s also great to keep in mind some tips and tricks. This way you can avoid overlooking a mechanical problem on your project bike.
After Bike Night II the Scarlet Headers diagnosed the project bike’s expensive fixes – the good sign is that our bike still runs, and it’s broken, giving us something to fix! The CL350’s right cylinder is running at 100 PSI, and the left side is at 85 PSI. This could be a symptom of bad rings, out of adjustment valves, or a bad head gasket. The fork seals will need to be replaced, as well as new rear suspension. We will need to replace the swing arm bearings, and have some electrical gremlins to tackle. All in all, we have a lot to work with, and a lot to learn! This winter season is going to be an epic adventure where we dive into the ins and outs of project bikes, beginning with this old Honda.
Continue to follow our progress on Instagram #TSHProjectBike
By Anna Hebert